Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Putting Socialism on the Menu

Socialism is not a very popular word at the moment. The meaning of socialism is also totally misunderstood, erroneously linked with the reform policies of Jeremy Corbyn, as a false description of the political regimes found in China, Cuba and Venezuela, and the failure of what was once the Soviet Empire. Socialism, though, simply means a social system in which the production and distribution of goods and services takes place solely and directly to meet human needs instead of making profit. Socialism, which has never existed, will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of the worldwide means of production and distribution by all of society.

Socialism and the urgent need for socialism to be established by a working class majority are constantly attacked in the capitalist media: par for the course. However it is extremely rare for socialism to be attacked in the glossy foodie supplements which fall out of the broadsheet Sunday newspapers, like the OBSERVER. THE OBSERVER, although it weeps over the plight of the poor, panders to the consumption habits of rich and powerful. It sends its food critics to expensive restaurants - not to food banks. It wants capitalism but not the effects of capitalism.

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the OBSERVER food critic, Tim Adams, recently interviewed Yevgevy Chichvarkin about the new restaurant, Hide, he has recently opened up in Mayfair, London. Chichvarkin made his millions in Boris Yeltsin’s corrupt winner-take-all Russia, but later fell out of favour with President Putin and now is an exiled wealthy Russian Oligarch with a smart Chelsea address.

Chichvarkin owns a wine shop, Hedonism, in Berkeley Square where a bottle of 1847 Yquem sells for £76,000 although an 1848 red would suit any discerning wine collector’s cellar. After all, 1848 was a revolutionary year in which Marx and Engels published The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. However, Mr Chichvarkin has a great dislike for Marx and Engels as he does for socialism. He told the OBSERVER food critic, who had brought up the subject of socialism, as you do over a drinkable glass of wine:

I think people should go and live 60 days in Russia in the 1970s. They would lose 10 kilos, be beaten-up, queue for cans of fish, and then they should come and talk about socialism
(OBSERVER FOOD MONTHLY, July 2018, no.206).

Of course Russia was never socialist. Russia, in fact, was state capitalist. Marx was quite clear that socialism meant the abolition of the wages system, the absence of the buying and selling of labour power – people’s ability to work – and no coercive state, totalitarian or otherwise.

It is unlikely socialism will be on the menu in Mr Chichvarkin’s very expensive, £10 million restaurant. If he did, it would most probably stick in the throats of his very rich clientele.

It is doubtful, too, that Mr Chichvarkin and his wealthy patrons would be found queuing at the hundreds of food banks to be found in the UK. The nearest food bank to the Hide restaurant is the Trussell Trust food bank at Buckingham Gate. It is one of the 400 food banks used by the millions of people in the UK who live below the official poverty line.

A study of the users of food banks, by researchers at Oxford University stated in their report:

Most food bank users reported that they were unable to afford to buy sufficient food, as well as finding it difficult to pay the rent, heat their home or buy clothes and toiletries. This should be regarded as a “serious health concern
(GUARDIAN 29th June 2017).

In 2017, the Trussell Trust’s food banks delivered 1,332, 952 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis across the UK, a 13% increase on the previous year. Low income is the main, and growing, reason
(INDEPENDENT 24th April 2018).

Those queuing at the Trussell centres for food would be malnourished, hungry and humiliated at having to beg for food. Those using food banks would never be found either visiting Chichvarkin’s restaurant or drinking his rare cognac at £36,000 a bottle, a price more than the average yearly wage of workers in the UK.

Of course the desperate are free to avoid food banks by scavenging through the waste bins of restaurants like Hide.

And scavenging for food is taking on an air of respectability. It is called “Dumpster Diving” by self-styled “freegans”. The Real Junk food project reclaims food from bins of restaurants and supermarkets destined for landfill and redistribute this to shared houses, cafes and school partnerships. They have reclaimed 1.1 kilograms of food to date.

The “hospitality” industry wastes $100bn of food each year so there is a lot to choose from (GUARDIAN, 15th May 2018). And capitalism likes “choice”. “Free to Choose” (1980), the late Professor Milton Friedman once said. “Free to lose” was the socialist’s reply. And under capitalism the losers have dustbins in which to forage for left-overs and food banks in which to queue for handouts

In the end , the food consumed by the rich at Hide and the food consumed by the poor at the nearby food banks all becomes excrement, sharing a common destination as it flows through the sewers of London to be treated, composted or sent to anaerobic digestion tanks, which creates enough methane to fire a power station. Under capitalism equality only exists as shit.

Capitalism: a system of waste amid want; a social system in which the capitalist class enjoys the best society can produce while thousands are left to queue at food banks or have waste food distributed to them via refuse bins. Is this the type of society we really want to live in?

Socialism should be on the menu. The first course: the formation of a socialist majority. The second course: socialist revolution and the political capture of the machinery of government including the armed forces. The third course: the establishment of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

In socialism free access will mean just that: free access. The housing crisis, caused by capitalism and one of the reasons why people are forced to go to food-banks, is the result of the high cost of rents and the exorbitant price of houses. The rich never suffer from a housing crisis, and are never found sleeping rough. Nor do they have to beg for food from charities.

Under capitalism nothing is free except fresh air – everything else comes with a price tag attached. Rationing by the purse is the rule. And the patient queues at food banks and desperate hopeless homelessness are the inevitable result of capitalism’s inhuman priorities, of production for profit. This system has to go – like the waste food from restaurants and supermarkets, it is well past its sell-by date. It is a system ripe for the dustbin of history.

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: |